THE ISSUE: The U.S. Census Bureau is preparing for the 2020 Census. THE IMPACT: Among other things, census statistics can affect a community’s ability to receive government funding and is an important part of our nation’s democracy, experts say.

Even though the next official population count is several years away, the U.S. Census Bureau is already asking residents across the nation to comply with its efforts to tally data for the 2020 Census in order to help improve quality of life.

Census counts can affect everything from how much money a city receives in government funding to economic development — both important issues for struggling areas such as Pine Bluff and Jefferson County. The bureau estimated that Pine Bluff was home to 44,772 people as of July 1, 2015, and will update its estimate around May 25.

Gordon De Jong, professor of sociology and demography and senior scientist in Penn State University’s Population Research Institute, said in a recent article published by Penn State that “Our whole representative democracy is based on [the census]. The census ensures that each community gets the right number of representatives in government.”

Because representation is based on population, an up-to-date tally is essential.

The census also helps with the equitable distribution of public funds, De Jong said, as federal and state funding for things like educational programs, healthcare, law enforcement and highways is allocated in part based on population. “Equitably distributing the billions of dollars of public money requires up-to-date population data,” he said.

Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington is asking that residents respond to the bureau’s questions when they are polled about the number of people who live in their homes. Washington took office on Jan. 1, 2017, and said she began preparing for the 2020 population count even while she was still mayor-elect.

“It is not too early. When I was mayor-elect, I met with one of the regional census intake officers and got information to prepare and educate our community so every citizen is counted,” Washington said. “We are really pushing forward to know how significantly important that everyone is counted. We are working with other initiatives. We are gearing up on June 2017 or July 2017 and moving forward. Getting everyone ready for the census is a process so it is impressed in the minds of the citizens. We cannot wait until late 2019.”

The mayor continued: “Some people do not take it as seriously as they should. The census comes through the mail. We tell people do not procrastinate. Fill it out and mail it in. Everybody may be doing a good job. As we get closer to 2020, we will see if we can set-up a Census headquarters if money is available. She said everyone will be gearing up as we get closer to that date.”

The United States Census Bureau will start counting people in April 2020 and complete the task in November 2020, Census Bureau public affairs specialist Daniel Velez said.

The bureau is gearing up for the 202o census while dealing with people mistrusting the government, a rapidly changing use of technology, a constrained fiscal environment, an explosion of information, people not responding to surveys, a mobile population and complex living arrangements," he said.

“The first step in conducting the 2020 Census is to identify all of the addresses where people could live, or establish where to count,” the census bureau states.

“An accurate address list helps ensure that everyone is counted. For the 2020 Census, the Census Bureau [began] an in-office review of 100 percent of the nation’s addresses in September 2015 and [will] continually update the address list based on data from multiple sources, including the U.S. Postal Service; tribal, state, and local governments; satellite imagery; and third-party data providers.

“This office work will also determine which parts of the country require fieldwork to verify address information. While fieldwork will occur in 2016 on a small scale for address coverage measurement, the bulk of the In-Field Address Canvassing will occur in 2019 and is anticipated to cover approximately 25 percent of all addresses, a significant reduction from the 100 percent that were reviewed in the field during the 2010 Census.”

Velez said that the bureau takes a count of the population every ten years, but the agency is taking surveys continuously.

“We do more than 130 surveys throughout the year and they are not all related to population,” Velez said. “We update our population numbers each year by releasing population estimates. We do that for cities, states, and towns based on administrative records. We have advisory committees: a national advisory committee that deals with hard-to-reach populations. American Indians or tribes who are isolated or secluded. We reach out to them quite a bit.”